Many of my clients complain that their hormones are out of balance. What does that feel like? Many women are referring to those pesky monthly symptoms that are referred to as PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), which includes mood swings, breast tenderness or swollen breasts, water retention, cravings, acne, joint pain, bloating, depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety or irritability, weight gain, headaches, fatigue and more. Other women may experience difficulty transitioning to menopause, which could mean hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, hair loss, loss of libido, painful intercourse, anxiety or panic disorder, depression, and many other symptoms. Not everyone experiences the same intensity of symptoms. For some women, that time of the month means at least one or two days of not being able to function, even spending those days in bed, or heavily medicated. Hormonal imbalances can also lead to irregular cycles and trouble conceiving.
What causes hormonal imbalance, and how can eliminating sugar help to re-balance them? First, let's understand that having these symptoms every month around your cycle may make you feel it's a perfectly normal part of being a woman, and something you'll have to learn to live with. There are so many women that experience monthly symptoms; your friends, co-workers, and family members. You may assume this is normal when it happens to you. I am here to tell you that just because there is an epidemic of PMS, and it's common, does not mean it's "normal" or that you must deal with these symptoms every month!
How do our hormones get out of balance? The endocrine system includes not only our reproductive system and hormones (estrogen, progesterone, FSH, LH) but also the adrenal glands (cortisol, aldosterone, adrenaline, noradrenaline, corticosterone) and the thyroid [T3 (tri-iodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine)]. All of the endocrine hormones work together in an intricate relationship and balance. When one hormone is out of balance, it can cause a cascade of events or a domino type effect on the other endocrine hormones that can turn into a vicious cycle. For healthy reproductive hormones, we need our thyroid and adrenal glands to be functioning optimally. This is where sugar comes into the picture!
Now that we know how our hormones can get out of balance, let's look at some things that contribute to this imbalance:
Chronic or high levels of stress
Poor diet/nutritional deficiencies
Sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep
Synthetic hormones/birth control
Endocrine disruptors (toxins/chemicals/heavy metals)
In this post, we are covering nutritional deficiencies and poor diet that can affect hormone balance. Addressing your nutrition should always be considered a foundational step to your health, and a very good place to start when working on hormone balance. If you don't have this step in place first, other therapies or things you try may not be as effective. It is hard to exercise your way out of a bad diet, and likewise it is difficult to balance your hormones without having a good nutritional foundation.
Now- getting back to sugar. Why is sugar what I focus on first when working on hormone balance? Remember the adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system, and when your adrenal hormones are out of balance, the hormone cascade of events will affect other parts of the endocrine system, including the thyroid and reproductive hormones. The adrenal glands not only produce stress hormones, but are involved in blood sugar regulation. The pancreas, liver, and adrenal glands all work together to keep your blood sugar in balance. The chart below gives you an idea of how one hormone can affect another, and create a domino effect of events when there is an imbalance in one area. It can also give you an idea of why randomly taking one hormone may not always provide the desired effect, or even lead to further imbalances.
Having imbalanced blood sugar can put a strain on your adrenal glands, contributing to an imbalance in adrenal hormones, creating a need for more cortisol, which can imbalance other hormones. As you see in the chart above, Pregnenolone is the "master" hormone from which other hormones are made. There is a pathway on the left side that leads to the production of cortisol, (the adrenal stress hormone that is involved not only in your stress response, but also in keeping blood sugar regulated.) When your body needs high levels of cortisol, more pregnenolone will be converted to cortisol. This does not always mean that DHEA, (the precursor to male and female sex hormones testosterone and estrogen) will be low. But chronically high levels of cortisol can mean the body cannot make enough DHEA to balance out the cortisol.
When we eat a low glycemic diet that gets us off the blood sugar roller coaster, it means our adrenals will produce less cortisol, keeping a better balance with other hormones. That is just a simple explanation for basic understanding- there is much more to it than that, however, working on blood sugar balance has helped many people in a huge way! Blood sugar regulation is foundational to our health, and accomplishing this step first can help reduce PMS symptoms, and take you one step closer to getting your hormones balanced. For some people, this is all they need to do, while others may need to continue on to other steps.
The good news is that getting your blood sugar balanced doesn't take a long time and you don't have to keep suffering from PMS symptoms!
If you have already tried to lose weight or break your addiction to sugar and refined carbs, and can't make it off the blood sugar roller coaster, then joining a group class like RESTART® can be the boost you need. RESTART® is a 5-week class that includes nutrition education, support, and a 21-day sugar detox guided by a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Our classes are held both onsite and online in a live, interactive format. Nearly all of my participants that follow the guidelines of the program (which doesn't mean being perfect) have achieved incredible results in just 21 days! Clearer skin, less brain fog, better sleep, increased energy, clothes fitting better, and reduction in PMS symptoms are a few of the benefits that participants have experienced.
Click here to learn more about the program or register for the next class. Not sure if you have blood sugar dysregulation? Take the sugar quiz and find out how your body is handling sugar and refined carbohydrates. If you already are eating a low glycemic or fairly clean whole foods diet and are still struggling with hormone imbalances or chronic symptoms, an individualized nutrition assessment may be better suited for you. This assessment includes a personalized protocol to support your body in restoring balance, healing, and optimizing your health.
Schedule a free discovery session to learn more about nutritional therapy, and which services or classes are right for you.
Image credit: http://drhardy.org/Hormone-Steroid-Cascade-Chart.html